Timing and dynamics of Late-Pleistocene mammal extinctions in southwestern Australia

Gavin Prideaux, Grant Gully, Aidan Couzens, Linda Ayliffe, Nathan Jankowski, Zenobia Jacobs, Richard Roberts, John Hellstrom, Michael Gagan, Lindsay Hatcher

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    71 Citations (Scopus)


    Explaining the Late Pleistocene demise of many of the world's larger terrestrial vertebrates is arguably the most enduring and debated topic in Quaternary science. Australia lost >90% of its larger species by around 40 thousand years (ka) ago, but the relative importance of human impacts and increased aridity remains unclear. Resolving the debate has been hampered by a lack of sites spanning the last glacial cycle. Here we report on an exceptional faunal succession from Tight Entrance Cave, southwestern Australia, which shows persistence of a diverse mammal community for at least 100 ka leading up to the earliest regional evidence of humans at 49 ka. Within 10 millennia, all larger mammals except the gray kangaroo and thylacine are lost from the regional record. Stable-isotope, charcoal, and small-mammal records reveal evidence of environmental change from 70 ka, but the extinctions occurred well in advance of the most extreme climatic phase. We conclude that the arrival of humans was probably decisive in the southwestern Australian extinctions, but that changes in climate and fire activity may have played facilitating roles. One-factor explanations for the Pleistocene extinctions in Australia are likely oversimplistic.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)22157-22162
    Number of pages6
    JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
    Issue number51
    Publication statusPublished - 21 Dec 2010


    • Climate change
    • Fire history
    • Human hunting
    • Megafauna
    • Paleoecology


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